ULITHI ATOLL HURTING FOR FOOD, WATER

By Katie Worth

ULITHI ATOLL, Federated States of Micronesia (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 1) - The scene on Ulithi Atoll's Faralop Island is familiar to anyone who has seen the wreckage of a Pacific island in the days after a bad typhoon: downed trees, many homes without roofs and some structures completely blown to the ground.

But on this tiny island on the outer boundaries of Yap state in the Federated States of Micronesia, there is something a little unfamiliar. Four days after the typhoon, the utility poles were up again. The roads are generally cleared of debris. School is expected to begin again today. Power should be on again in a few days, once the generator is fixed.

"Guam has something to learn from Ulithi, that's for sure," said Joseph Edhlund, the owner of Sky Blue Air, who has taken four trips to the typhoon-wrecked islands to deliver relief goods. "And from Mog Mog - they never even lost power," he said, referring to an island in the atoll whose underground power lines never stopped buzzing despite Typhoon Lupit's powerful winds and surging waves that nearly submerged the island Tuesday.

But despite their visible resourcefulness, resilience and quick physical recovery from the devastation of the storm, the residents of the atoll - who number about 800 - have a lot to worry about. Primarily, where they will get their food for the next couple years?

They face a complete loss of crops and salt-saturated soil that will take at least a year, according to most estimates, before it is ready to bear taro or other crops again. Banana and breadfruit trees were almost decimated, leaving the island fruitless.

"It will be two or three years before the crops become edible again," said John Rulmal, who runs the Ulithi Resort Hotel on Faralop.

Rulmal printed the phone number of a relative in Guam and asked that she be called, since communication with outside islands has not been good since the typhoon. Other residents of the island approached the plane's passengers and asked for messages to be relayed to their families in the states, mostly asking for money and food.

Faralop's residents came to meet the plane and unload the goods. A package of cookies homemade by the wife of the plane's co-pilot was descended upon immediately. The island's residents began dispersing the 150 pounds of pepperoni donated by Pizza Hut on Guam.

Many of the residents had stories of the scene of the typhoon a few days earlier. Faralop's leader, Chief Phillip Yatch, described it this way: "During World War II, I was in Yap, and sometimes the Americans would fly 300 or 400 airplanes over the island," he said. "It was just like that, the sound."

Ulithi Atoll is not alone in its suffering after the typhoon. Fais Island, about fifty miles from Ulithi, was hit even harder by the typhoon, though it has a higher elevation so the flooding was not as bad as it was in Ulithi.

On Saturday, a few dozen children ran onto the runway after Sky Blue descended on Fais' short airstrip, and eagerly helped unload the supplies, mostly food and tools.

The chief arrived shortly thereafter and said what his island was most desperate for was water. He said there is no potable water on the island and the island's residents have been drinking coconut juice to stay hydrated. But that resource won't last for long, since the coconuts - all downed by the storm -- will start to ferment in a few days and will not be drinkable. Edhlund promised a return visit with a supply of drinking water soon.

Other islands in the northern region of Yap and Chuuk states are equally desperate for supplies but Edhlund said many of them are harder to reach, either lacking airstrips or having flooded ones.

The Ulithi residents will be OK for a while with food, mostly thanks to an aggressive relief campaign on Guam and Edhlund's delivery of the items.

On Saturday morning, a group of Ulithians who live on Guam showed up at Sky Blue's Tiyan hangar with hundreds of pounds of rice, juice, diapers, machetes, axes, canned food, candles and other goods they had collected from church groups, businesses and other donors on Guam.

Some of the packages had messages for the recipients. One 50-pound sack of rice read in big black scrawled letters: "To: Delly. Fr: Family. We miss you so much. Love, Kay."

Many of the outer islanders living on Guam are desperate for news of their relatives or their houses. One of them pressed an airmail envelope into a reporter's hand and implored the reporter to deliver it to her niece.

Though the Federal Emergency Management Agency is poised to begin helping the islands recover, bureaucracy has tied up its relief efforts so far, so Sky Blue's dropoffs have been a lifesaver for Ulithi. Other relief efforts are under way. Commuter airline Freedom Air is expected to airlift medicine and other relief supplies to the affected islands today.

Edhlund says the dropoffs have cost him about $4,000 each, but he plans to do more. He said the typhoon relief work is a labor of love.

"People ask me, 'Why are you doing this?' Well, these are my people. This is my place," he said. "Those are my friends out there and it's hard to watch them hurting."

December 1, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

HOW TO HELP (Guam prefix:1-671)

· Micronesian Divers Association: 472-6324

· Ayuda Foundation: 473-3003

· Joseph Edhlund, Sky Blue Air at 777-0006

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